by Rev. Doug Gray
Philippians 1:27 Whatever happens, live a life worthy of citizenship in the Good News of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, playing side by side with one mind for the faith of the Good News, 28and are in no way freaked out by your opponents. For them [your steadiness] is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—30since you are competing in the same contest that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 2:1 If there is any encouragement to being united with Christ, if any persuasive tenderness to His love, if any participation with the Spirit, if any gut-deep affection and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by having the same mind and the same love, with your hearts beating in unison and your minds focusing on one purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or pointless self-glorification, but in deep humility esteem each other as better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others as well.
I watched The Field of Dreams the other night and one of the conversations that struck me is one that the main character, Ray, had with his wife, Annie. Have you seen the movie? Ray has heard this voice in the middle of his corn field telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray sees a vision of a lighted baseball field near his house. A few nights later, he and his wife are lying in bed and she turns over and says:
Annie: Are you actually thinking of doing this [that is building the baseball field]?
Ray: ...I’m 36 years old. I have a wife, a kid and a mortgage and I’m scared to death I’m turning into my father.
Annie: What’s your father got to do with it?
Ray: I never forgave him for getting old. By the time he was as old as I am now, he was ancient. I mean, he must have had dreams, but he never did anything about them. For all I know, he may have heard voices too, but he sure didn’t listen to them. He didn’t do one spontaneous thing in all the years I knew him. I’m afraid of that happening to me. And something tells me this may be my last chance to do something about it. I want to build that field. Do you think I’m crazy?
Annie: Yes, but I also think if you really feel you should do this, you should do it.
Some of us here are just getting started on dreaming and we have strong imaginations. Some of us here are like Ray’s father, believing the dreams of our hearts are gone, our hearts and spirits atrophy until we think the time for dreams is over. And many of us are like Ray in Field of Dreams, afraid we may be getting too hard of heart to dream strong, passionate dreams. In today’s passage, Paul dreams a dream for his close friends at Philippi, a strong, heady dream God has for each of us and for this congregation.
Paul’s dream for his friends in Philippi has five parts. Paul first dreams of the encouragement that comes from being united with Christ. The word he uses here for encouragement might mean “support” or “incentive” or “loving consolation.” Next Paul dreams of fully reflecting of God’s love in their lives. What Paul is talking about here is not just a nice feeling, but what he calls the “persuasive tenderness of God’s love.” It’s the love that always calls us to do what we know is truly best and not just best for ourselves. Then Paul dreams that his friends will have a sense of participation in the work of the Holy Spirit, of experiencing fellowship with others and with God that only the Holy Spirit can bring. Those who came to my first worship with you all may have experienced some of this. Many people have remarked to me that the air felt like it was charged with electricity, that it gave them goosebumps. All these words point to the awesome presence of God, the Holy Spirit flowing in and through us. God gives this gift to help draw us together and to grow the love between us. That’s why Paul’s fourth dream is that his friends would be marked by deep affection and compassion. The Greek for this kind of affection means the affection should come from our bowels. Now I don’t think Paul’s dream was that the Philippians would all feel the need to head for the latrine whenever they got together, though I guess that would be a kind of fellowship too. No, it’s an affection so deep that you feel it with your gut, an awareness of another person’s need so deep that it requires action. Finally, Paul writes in verse 2, “make my joy complete by having the same mind and the same love, with your hearts beating in unison and your minds focusing on one purpose.” Paul’s language is really strong here: he wants them to literally be “together-souled” and “one-minded.” This unity in Christ goes beyond trivial disagreements to a unity of essence that we should seek before all else. Augustine expressed the tensions in this dream well when he wrote, “Let there be in the essentials, unity. In all non-essentials, liberty. In all things, unconditional love.”
What do these look like in action? Maxie Dunnam tells of “a man [who] was unfaithful to his wife, walked all over her, used her, and went his...selfish way. But he kept coming back, asking his wife to accept him and promising to be faithful. That story was repeated over and over again until the woman couldn’t take it any more. She committed suicide. The woman had a friend in our church who had experienced much the same thing with her husband. This church member told me the story of her friend’s suicide. As she wept she confessed, ‘That has been my temptation. You don’t know how many times I’ve been on the verge of suicide. I couldn’t follow through on my temptation because of the love and support of Christ through this church. I want you to know that Mary and Jim, Bob and Karen, Ben and Ann have kept me alive.’” My dream is that we would be so tuned into each other, that when life really stinks for one of us that we would suddenly find several people (or all of us?) alongside us, helping us along, walking with us, encouraging us in our faith. Isn’t that what Christ does for us?
All of these dreams Paul has for his friends have one thing in common: they all encourage people to say to themselves, “It’s not about me.” Our world says, “You’re the boss. You are #1. Have it your way. The customer is always right.” We are encouraged to tailor everything which fools us into thinking we are the focus, that we are what matters. Leonard Sweet, in his book SoulTsunami, draws on a New Yorker cartoon that “shows a new person being introduced to hell, with fire and devils bearing pitchforks everywhere. A friendly devil says to him, “You’ll find that down here there is no right and wrong. It’s just what works for you.” Sweet concludes: “Hell is getting what you want. Hell is doing only what works for you. Hell is building a self based on a foundation of one. Heaven is being the self God made you to be and the self you can’t become without God and the church. Heaven is living a self-identity that is God-given, not self-constructed…The search for self-fulfillment can only be met in the context of belonging and contributing to a community where the common good takes precedence over the self.”
All of a sudden we are face-to-face with one of the great mysteries of our faith. To strengthen our ourselves and our congregation, we must put aside our limited, personal goals in favor of Christ’s goals for the Church as a whole and our local congregation in particular. If God’s grace and love are the river of blessing, then humility is the channel. If God’s power is high-voltage electricity, then our humbleness before God allows us to handle it safely. What’s interesting about while Christ demonstrated that one person can do this, he commissioned the Church because working and living for God, being channels for God’s grace and love and power is easier and safer if we do it together. Humility is the art of seeking God’s dreams. If we can unite even just a little, then we will make God’s joy complete and we will find that dreams come true. And just as Christ received the promise, so too, when we put God’s dreams first, the power of the resurrection comes into our lives.
At the end of The Field of Dreams, Ray is standing talking with his father’s spirit. Ray’s father looks around at the sky and the corn and farm house, lit up in the early evening, and he says, “It’s so beautiful here. It’s like a dream come true. Can I ask you something? Is this heaven?” Ray smiles and says, “It’s Iowa.” Ray’s father, “I could have sworn it was heaven.” After a moment, Ray asks, “Is there a heaven?” His father looks him straight in the eye, “Oh yeah! It’s the place dreams come true.” Ray looks at the sky and the corn and the farm house, where his wife and daughter are reading on the porch... “Maybe this is heaven.” My dream for us is that when people meet one of us, when they worship or have fun here at First Church, they will discover that this is a place where God’s dreams come true, a place where earth and heaven meet.